News (World)

LGBTQ+ Afghans risk safety by protesting U.S. government & publications that “left us behind”

Afghanistan, Taliban, LGBTQ Afghans, Chris Pappas, letter, State Department, flee, evacuate
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A group of LGBTQ+ activists in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul held a virtual, in-house protest criticizing the U.S. government and U.S. publications for abandoning them to a life of persecution and death under the Islamic extremist Taliban government.

The protest, whose photos were disseminated via social media, showed people holding banners with critical messages.

“We are exhausted by the US recklessness! TRUMP orchestrated the Taliban deal. BIDEN withdrew and left us behind. Stop punishing us,” one banner read. “We can not live here! There is no love in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan,” another sign read. “We want to live, not fight to stay alive!” read another.

One of the protesters, a former senior state security worker named Qadam, said they wanted western governments to assist and accept more LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban’s persecution, something that has worsened since the group re-took control of the country following the August 2021 withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the region.

Two other signs said that three U.S. publications — The Daily Beast, The Washington Blade, and The New York Times — “betray” and suppress the voices of queer Afghans by not including the voices of the protest’s organizing groups and that of Nemat Sadat.

Sadat is a human rights journalist and Afghani ex-patriate who fled the country after local Islamic clerics declared lethal fatwas against him following his public coming out as gay. He has compared the Taliban to Nazis.

“The Daily Beast and Washington Blade continue to shun Nemat Sadat and activists from Behesht Collective and Roshaniya in their coverage of LGBT+ people in Afghanistan,” a tweet published by both groups read. “Let’s hope they start interviewing the voices who are authentic to the movement!”

Photos of the banners shared online had the hashtags #LetUsLive #TheseAreMyLastWords and #WeAreAfghanLGBTQ.

The protest was organized by two groups: the Behesht Collective, a queer and trans group that provides mental health counseling, shelter, and evacuation to LGBTQ+ Afghan youth, and Roshaniya, a nonprofit for relocating persecuted Afghan queers.

“The US has shown no courage or leadership to stick up for universal human rights for LGBTQI+ Afghans,” a Twitter message posted by both groups declared. “We hope the US will change course and provide asylum protection for members of our community.”

Immediately following the protest, several protesters relocated to another Muslim country that still criminalizes same-sex sexual activity, but is safer than Afghanistan, Pink News reported.

Sadat told the publication, “The facts are as clear as day: The U.S. did nothing for LGBTQI+ Afghans during the 20 years of U.S. occupation in Afghanistan and continues to turn a blind eye to the savagery committed by the Taliban.” He also praised the protestors for holding their demonstration “under the noses of the Taliban.”

“Unless the U.S. reverses course and proactively works with the Behesht Collective and Roshaniya,” he added, “we will witness the total annihilation of the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan.”

Barely 11 days after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, the Taliban swept back into power, taking control from the government which had overseen the country in the recent past.

Before returning to power, Taliban officials promised to reinstate hardline Islamic Sharia law. One judge said that gay people would be prosecuted and executed by stoning or pushing a wall on top of them. U.S. legislators begged President Joe Biden (D) to do more to help LGBTQ+ Afghans before the U.S. withdrawal.

report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that life for LGBTQ+ Afghans has “dramatically worsened” since the Taliban regained control. The report found that LGBTQ Afghans face increased threats, violent attacks, and sexual assaults from Taliban members and close friends, family members, and partners who either support the Taliban or fear retaliation if they don’t betray their LGBTQ+ associates.

In June 2021, during the worldwide outbreak of mpox (the skin infection previously known as monkeypox), Taliban officials patrolled known gay urban areas to harass, inspect, and detain gay men under the guise of preventing an outbreak.

In October 2021, the Taliban murdered Hamed Sabouri, a gay 22-year-old medical student, and sent a video of his death to his family. Sabouri was tortured for three days before being shot in the back of the head. His partner had previously been raped, beaten, and tortured with electric shocks. Sabouri’s family fled the country after his murder.

In December, Taliban enforcers publicly whipped Afghan men accused of gay sex.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Taliban military forces “firmly rejected what our leaders were selling it over 20 years,” claiming that the U.S. tried to force “radical gender politics” on the country.

Ten organizations – including the Human Rights Campaign, Immigration Equality, Rainbow Railroad, the Council for Global Equality, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), and the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (ORAM) – asked the Biden administration to adopt their 10-point plan to help relocate queer and transgender Afghan people to the United States.

In August 2022, Behesht (the Persian word for “heaven”) held a similar virtual protest in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. That protest targeted the United Kingdom to accept more regional LGBTQ+ political refugees seeking asylum. The U.K. Home Office’s guidance for LGBTQ+ Afghan asylum applicants advised them to hide their sexual orientations and gender identities within Afghanistan to avoid persecution.

HRW denounced the guidance as a violation of international law. The United Nations guidelines on refugees say that LGBTQ+ people should not be required to change or conceal their identities.

At the time, Roshaniya’s executive director said that it’s dangerous and illegal for LGBTQ+ people to assemble and protest under the Taliban regime, especially since the regime’s supporters may identify the protesters, putting them at risk of harassment, arrest, detainment, torture and death by Taliban supporters.

“I know that they’re doing the right thing because there’s no other chance,” the executive director said in a live-streamed Facebook video. “This is a moment to speak up for themselves and for the rest of the community, for the world to listen to the world to see that we’re here, that we’re fighting for our brothers and sisters to have a chance to live.”

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